Monday, August 24, 2015

Student recreation

There is a fashion in certain quarters these days to criticize the lavishness of student recreational facilities, and their effect on the cost of higher education. I confess to being a beneficiary of that lavishness (here at Baylor, the recreation facilities open to students are open to faculty and families at the same cost--indeed, typically, at no cost), as I live a five minute walk from the gym.

I think the criticism forgets something important: American colleges (and colleges more generally, probably going back to the middle ages) have traditionally been known for students engaging in entertainment that is unwholesome both physically and morally. This harms the moral education of students, and (at least derivatively) the intellectual education. Given this background, providing wholesome fun to the students seems to me to be at least instrumentally important to the educational mission of a university.


Heath White said...

If the use of the student rec center substituted for morally harmful recreation by students, I would agree. But is that so clear? Maybe it just substitutes for studying. (Full disclosure: faculty have to pay to use the rec center here.)

Alexander R Pruss said...

I would think it unlikely that it would *only* substitute for studying.

There may be some vicious students who prefer unwholesome recreation to the funnest wholesome recreation that can be provided. And there a number of virtuous students who prefer wholesome recreation to the funnest unwholesome recreation. But presumably in between these rare extremes there are students who are will sometimes choose unwholesome recreation over wholesome and some wholesome recreation over unwholesome, and the more of the wholesome there is, the greater the chance that on a particular occasion they will choose the wholesome.

That said, your note makes me think I was rash in my posting. This really is an empirical question, and I should be more cautious with applying common sense in the place of empirical studies. This is the sort of thing that economists could easily investigate empirically, and perhaps should be hired to do before a college spends money on recreation. Do underage drinking arrests go down after a rock wall is built? Do noise complaints go down after a fancy new swimming pool is opened? Do the negative indicators go up when a facility is closed for renovation?

Heath White said...

Yes, I would like to know the answers to those questions myself. I have often thought that the actual policy goals of university spending on extra-curricular/student life items were somewhat fuzzy and, where clear, under-supported by evidence.

Alexander R Pruss said...

Charitable answer: the "education of the whole person" that was the goal you and I were expressly told to pursue when we were at Georgetown.

Pragmatic answer: marketing. (Nothing wrong with marketing as such. But it should be evidence-based if a lot of money is involved.)

I suspect that the truth combines both answers, and at Christian schools there may be expressly theological answers, too.

M.A.D. Moore said...

Well, the best criticism is not that recreational facilities themselves are a waste of money, although there may in fact be examples of extravagance, but that these facilities are indicative of an escalating battle between schools to build bigger and better buildings, what the NY Times calls, "The Edifice Complex." They draw attention to, "student unions with movie theaters and wine bars; workout facilities with climbing walls and “lazy rivers”; and dormitories with single rooms and private baths. "

Even at one of my almae matres, SF State, a small and low-prestige school, there is currently a plan to expand the campus significantly, at least partially, I would suppose, as an attempt to mitigate the huge shadow of neighboring academic behemoths Berkeley and Stanford.

Its like the bodybuilder with muscle dysmorphia, every time he looks in the mirror, he sees himself as puny and wasting away.

Dagmara Lizlovs said...

In some European Universities, particularly Germany and Austria academic fencing (student dueling) is considered a wholesome pastime. Let's introduce it in America. :-)